by Patrick Derdall
‘I meet you. I remember you. Who are you? You destroy me. You’re so good for me.’ This is what elle says to lui in Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959) after he accuses her of having no memory and so no idea of what it is to forget or not forget. Elle is a French actor making an anti-war movie in Japan just after the war. Lui is an architect and a veteran, elle merely a tourist. What does their 36-hour love affair amount to? ‘You destroy me. You’re so good for me. Plenty of time. Please. Take me. Deform me, make me ugly.’ A confrontation.
The contradiction of Holy Saturday lies in the absolute suspension of activity on the part of Jesus’ body as it rests in the tomb and the temporary activity on the part of Jesus’ spirit as it descends into hell, on the other. To say the same thing, the tension is between grieving the death of God and somehow watchfully anticipating…God knows what. To be waiting on God or awaiting the what in light of God’s death—what is that? Possibly: nothing other than the courage to draw near to that space of what, between the visibly ruined body of Jesus, lying still as a shipwreck, and the invisible spirit of Christ, subterraneously at work as a cicada nymph.
There’s a story from the second book of Herodotus’s Histories about the Sixth Dynasty Egyptian queen Nitocris. Her brother was an assassinated pharaoh and in order to exact revenge, ‘she devised a cunning scheme…she constructed a spacious underground chamber and, on pretense of inaugurating it, threw a banquet, inviting all those whom she knew to have been responsible for the murder of her brother. Suddenly as they were feasting, she let the river [Nile] in upon them by means of a large, secret duct’ (II.100). After she had done this, she killed herself.
To live in the space where God no longer works—all Saturdays, after all, are Sabbaths when God’s activity comes to a stand still (Genesis 2.2,30)—is like being invited to a banquet thrown by an Egyptian queen. The danger of holding oneself in that place is that it may suddenly become flooded. For that reason, Saturday is like a 36-hour love affair. A time when my struggle to remember and my struggle to remember to remember comes to be questioned to the core. A time when lui, despite accusations (‘no, you don’t know what it is to forget…no, you don’t have memory’), relentlessly pursues me, as in the film, and though begs me not to go also lets me go. So I can say in this dangerous space, risking both drownings and suicides, ‘You destroy me. You’re so good for me.’
‘I meet you. I remember you. Who are you?’ If Jesus’ body is indeed ruined and yet his spirit is at work, then wouldn’t watchfully awaiting mean asking in every body and of everyone this ‘who are you’ with an expectation that the answer is ‘it’s me’ (Matthew 14.27)?